African-American Voters Key in Political Strategy

Article excerpt

Georgia Democrats have been teaching from the same old

algebra book for decades: 90 percent of the black vote plus 30

percent of the white vote equals a Senate seat or the

Governor's Office.

Recent developments, however, suggest new math may be in order.

Democrats go into November with black nominees in at least two

of their eight statewide slots, incumbent Thurbert Baker for

attorney general and challenger Henrietta Canty for insurance

commissioner. The number will rise to three if Michael Thurmond

can win tomorrow's runoff for labor commissioner.

The fall election figures to be a low-turnout affair. Pollsters

are finding great waves of contentment, with the economy humming

and no global crisis threatening our security.

That suggests no compelling issue to motivate voters -- unless

African-Americans can be convinced they have an extra stake in

this outcome.

Top Democrats are cautiously hopeful that a deluge for Baker,

Canty and Thurmond would float Roy Barnes into the Governor's

Mansion and might even help long shot Michael Coles into the

U.S. Senate.

"It should have a positive effect, but the black candidates

tend not to have the money to get their message across," said

state Senate Majority Leader Charles Walker, D-Augusta. "It's

going to depend on how effective the Democratic Party is at

reaching out and mobilizing people."

Some history suggests a black candidate brings out Democratic

votes for everyone. The year Douglas Wilder was on the ballot to

be Virginia's first black lieutenant governor, his party swept

the ticket.

Closer to home, U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga., is credited

with generating an unusually high black turnout in the Atlanta

area when she was imperiled in 1996. That turnout provided U.S.

Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., with a narrow margin of victory.

Blacks normally vote at a rate much below their number in the

population. But studies showed one of every four voters in 1996

was black, meaning they turned out as avidly as whites.

While McKinney doesn't face a serious threat this year, the

state's other black members of Congress -- John Lewis in Atlanta

and Sanford Bishop in Southwest Georgia -- will be churning

their vote machines against scary opponents.

Democrats everywhere are warming to the benefits of

diversifying the ticket. Last month, no less an operative than

President Clinton called a black college president in Florida to

recruit him for statewide office, hoping to bring disaffected

blacks back into the family. …

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